United States President Donald Trump speaks during a Friday press conference, where he stated that the US was “blocking the shipment” of illegal drugs in response to questions about US Customs and Border Protection’s seizure of containers of personal protective equipment destined for the Caribbean. (Photo: PROVIDED)

The Virgin Islands is now among a growing list of jurisdictions affected by United States President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to ban the export of certain medical equipment designed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, effectively blocking much-needed shipments to struggling nations, according to Deputy Premier Carvin Malone.

Today, the governor’s office announced that a blocked shipment of masks and other equipment worth about $12,000 has been released.

“I am pleased to report that the medical supplies have now been released by the US and the shipment is due to arrive in the Territory shortly,” said Governor Gus Jaspert. “I’d like to say thank you to our US colleagues in Bridgetown and London, and the BVI Health Services Authority, who have worked together to achieve this outcome.”

Mr. Malone first confirmed the seizure of equipment destined for the VI on April 10, and on Monday he said the government has sought the United Kingdom’s assistance to retrieve the supplies and to help government keep an open channel to purchase medical supplies from the US.

“The Governor’s Office is dealing with this,” he told Caribupdate News Channel, which is based in Hollywood, Florida. “I have no updated report on this, but I am assured that this will be handled amicably.”

Mr. Malone, who is the minister of health and social development, also told JTV News that he was advised by BVI Health Services Authority CEO Dr. Ronald Georges that the shipment included N95 masks, gloves and gowns.

The minister added that he reported the situation to Mr. Jaspert, asking him to find “diplomatic channels” to retrieve the supplies.

“[The equipment is] not much in the whole scheme of things, but we want to make sure we have a clear path of purchasing those supplies through the United States,”he said. “We would be grateful if this could be handled, and handled effectively, by the US government and the UK government.”

In response, Mr. Jaspert confirmed the request and resolved the matter.

United States law

On April 3, Mr. Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to ban the export of crucial medical supplies used to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment.

“We need these items immediately for domestic use: We have to have them,” he said at a press conference that day.

Many have argued that the move contradicted the March 26 decision of Mr. Trump and other G20 world leaders to ensure the flow of medical supplies across borders.

In addition to the VI, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Barbados have had containers filled with PPE purchased from US vendors blocked by US Customs and Border Protection, according to The Miami Herald.

Barbados Health Minister Jeffrey Bostic told the nation that a shipment of 20 ventilators purchased by a philanthropist was blocked from entering the country, which has tallied 72 confirmed Covid-19 cases and four deaths, the Herald reported Saturday.

Though the nation reached out to the US embassy, shipments had not been released at the time of the report.

The US also temporarily blocked a shipment to the Cayman Islands of eight ventilators and 50,000 masks, according to the newspaper. On Friday, however, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the US released the shipment after Cayman received support from the US ambassador to Jamaica.

Trump’s response

Asked about seizures of Caribbean shipments during a Friday press conference, Mr. Trump changed the subject.

A reporter asked, “Officials in Latin American and Caribbean nations — Bahamas and Cayman Islands — have been saying that US authorities are blocking the shipment of PPE in certain cases and I’m wondering if you can speak to that.”

Mr. Trump responded, “What we’ve been doing: We have a tremendous force out there, a Naval force, and we’re blocking the shipment of drugs. … We’re not blocking: What we’re doing is making sure — we don’t want drugs in our country.”

The president then spent the next few minutes talking about human trafficking rather than answering the question.